Did the fractious family squabbles of Europe’s royal cousins in 1914 matter?

Wed, May 14, 2014, 01:00

On May 24th, 1913, there was a big family party in Berlin. Victoria Louise, the youngest, favourite child and only daughter of the German emperor Kaiser William II, was marrying her cousin Ernst August, heir to the kingdom of Hanover (they were both descendants of George III of England). It may have been a love match or it may have been a reconciliation between the Hohenzollerns and the Hanovers, or perhaps it was both. In any event, it was a large wedding which the extended family attended.

The family who gathered included the groom’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of Cumberland, the Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and his wife Alexandra, and George V of England and his wife Mary.

Like many family occasions, it was probably not without its tensions.

William II had had a strange and difficult relationship with his English mother, he disliked her brother Edward VII and was disliked by him and his Danish wife Alexandra (perhaps because of the German annexation of Schleswig-Holstein) and their son George V. Tsar Nicholas of Russia also disliked his cousin William.

The following summer the family got together again for the christening of the happy couple’s first child who was born in March 1914. Among the godparents were Tsar Nicholas, George and Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria-Hungary. Before the end of the year Franz Joseph and William would be heads of states at war with Britain and Russia.

The family tree above outlines the relationships between the monarchs ruling European during 1914, many of them guests at the parties. They were all descended from Christian IX of Denmark or Queen Victoria or from uncles of her husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Descendants of the Saxe-Coburg-
Gothas were also, through Albert’s uncle Ferdinand, the kings of Portugal and Bulgaria, and, through his uncle Leopold, the king of the Belgians.

Family trees are always fascinating. In the case of these intertwined royals, does the family tree matter? Do their fractious family squabbles matter? Had they enough power left in 1914 to drag their countries into war because they disliked cousin William?

Almost certainly not. The war of 1914 was, however, to divide the family further and for many of them, the family quarrels were never mended and the official attitude to the losers was not softened for reasons of family pietas. MU Keating

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